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Josh Groban?

It’s the name, of course, of the internationally renowned, LA-born singer-songwriter and actor, the only artist to land two albums on Billboard’s list of the 20 best-sellers of the last decade.

But west Sonoma County vintner Ross Halleck isn’t too proud to admit that, not so long back, the name just didn’t ring a bell.

So Halleck had a lot to learn about Groban after the first time they connected a couple of years ago. Halleck recalls that Groban reached out to him and asked if they might make wine together.

Halleck, a former Silicon Valley marketing and branding ace whose first Sonoma County pinot noir in 2001 was named No. 1 in the country by Pinot Noir Summit, quickly learned who Groban is and that the entertainer long yearned to learn to make wine.

Groban told Halleck he’d heard about him and his Halleck Vineyard, and he’d tasted a Halleck pinot at a restaurant in New York City and loved it.

In addition to hoping to learn from Halleck about winemaking, Groban had something else on his mind.

The globe-trotting celebrity told the vintner about his Find Your Light Foundation, which works to sustain and expand music education in public schools. Groban asked, might they make a nice pinot and sell it for the benefit of Find Your Light?

Halleck, who runs the winery with his ex-wife, Jennifer Halleck, took to the idea like a starling to a ripe grape.

“I have three sons; they are all artists,” Halleck said. “All are beneficiaries of arts programs in the public schools. And none of those programs exist any more.”

He told Groban, “I’m in.”

Soon after, in 2017, Groban paid his first visit to Halleck Vineyard on Burnside Road. A friendship was born — and a charitable partnership.

Groban, 37, and Halleck, 64, delved into their shared passion for arts education in the public schools.

Groban is in Europe and was not available to be interviewed for this story. But in a message on his website, he wrote that his personal evolution as an artist and also his observations of others make it clear that exposure to the arts and to arts education programs change lives.

Groban alluded to the “sobering reality (is) that these are the exact programs that are being cut from our schools and society at a drastic rate.”

The recording and stage artist created Find Your Light in 2011. The foundation makes grants to organizations that provide arts education to students in underserved communities across America.

During Groban’s 2017 visit to Sebastopol, Halleck guided him about his winery and invited him to taste several wines still in the barrels and choose the one that would be the base for the blend they’d make to benefit Find Your Light.

The singer made his pick. That wine was blended by winemaker Rick Davis and became the 2014 Halleck Vineyard Sonoma Coast pinot labeled as Find Your Light. Groban and Halleck composed the text on the back label, and signed it.

Groban promoted the wine on social media. Halleck Vineyard sold it, then forwarded the proceeds to the entertainer’s foundation.

The partnership now is selling the 2015 vintage of Find Your Light pinot. The price is $55 a bottle, $660 a case.

Halleck said the involvement of his family and his wine club members in Groban’s arts-in-the-schools initiative so far has generated about $120,000 to Find Your Light.

Some of those dollars came from Halleck Vineyard wine club members who attended a benefit gala for Groban’s foundation at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay last May and bid high for bottles of the Find Your Light wine.

Well before Halleck met Groban, he and his club members raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for educational causes and other endeavors. Much of the money is raised through adventures and special meals that allow fans of Halleck wines to have some fun while contributing to worthy causes.

“What we do is create experiences that money can’t buy,” Halleck said.

One such experience: 20 members of the Halleck wine club flew to New York in mid-2017 to see Groban perform on Broadway in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” and then dined with the singer-actor at Del Frisco’s.

Though Groban may not be ready to call himself a winemaker, he does take part in creating the Find Your Light pinots.

“He helps us blend it,” Halleck said. He said that when the time for blending arrives, the incredibly busy Groban comes to Sonoma County “at sort of a surgically precise time” and joins in the process.

Then he’s off again to who knows where.

You can reach Chris Smith at chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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